ITL #416 Diversity communications: a cultural obligation to educate society6 months, 3 weeks ago
Communication has a critical role in helping to eliminate stigmas and misinterpretations. By Gabrielle Gambrell.
Public relations bears the incredible responsibility of creating and nurturing relationships to strategically manage the intentional spread of information. PR affects public perception and opinion by increasing awareness of people, brands and organizations. As a result PR impacts, persuades and influences society as a whole. PR tactics that fail to consider or reflect diversity can erroneously produce a communications disconnect and ultimately cause failure.
One of the first lessons of communications is to identify your target audience; however, a close second lesson is how to reach them. Diversity communications brings a third lesson: how underrepresented groups interpret information—including preference (e.g., tone and voice, outlet and even the messenger)— and how they're shaped by social, political, economic, historic, racial, ethnic, and cultural frameworks. People want to be heard, seen, and feel as if a message was made with them in mind.
It's a lot to consider when crafting a message, especially in today's charged climate, but crucial nonetheless. Why? More than half of U.S. consumers will be people of color by 2042. The country is on its way to becoming one of the most multicultural nations on the globe. As the world becomes more and more diverse, there is an immense need to understand the dynamics and sensitivities of race, history, traditions, culture, age, class, gender, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, socioeconomics, and identity.
A business imperative
Diversity communications is a business imperative as brands and companies can attest; the better you understand diverse consumers, the more profitable you’ll be. From a PR standpoint, diverse storytelling forms authentic connections and brand loyalty.
Effective PR requires cultural competence, the ability to comprehend and successfully communicate with people across cultures to develop knowledge of customs and world views. Strong public relations enhances lines of communication, conveying an intimate understanding that messages were made with a diverse public in mind, acknowledging their needs. It's a journey to increase proficiency in intercultural communication and information, honing the ability to improve awareness and perceptions—one's own and others'.
Diverse PR practices educate the public and positively impact society's sensibilities. At the same time it builds on our own understanding of how to honor history and culture, to properly pay homage to rich traditions, confront and eliminate taboos, value differences and abilities, and respect the uniqueness of the world. Diverse PR practices have a niche capability of communicating with an increasingly complex stakeholder group. There is a great need for diverse teams to carefully craft messages for audiences that span a cross section of cultural and societal identities.
I recommend four steps to support diversity communications. First, knowledge is power and a commitment to learning is integral. This can be achieved through a steadfast commitment to cultural competence and understanding of identification. Consume, share and elevate diverse news and stay in tune to credible publications that are dedicated to diversity storytelling.
Second, identify your inclusive target audience: Who are you speaking to and why? Where are they? What do you want them to do and what’s the clear call to action? When do you need to see action? How do you want them to feel? How do you reach them? How do they like to consume information?
Third, execute your campaigns with the goal of elevating and magnifying diverse stories. This is an organic extension of identifying an overall diversity objective with respect to cultures and perspectives. Diversity should be a fundamental part of your communications strategy and overall campaign. PR practitioners must develop and nourish competencies to support diversity with a goal of forging sustainable relationships. Campaigns that treat the diversity element as an afterthought or a check-the-box exercise versus a deliberate part of the comprehensive package risk making the same messaging mistakes as those that don’t add a diversity lens at all.
And last but not least, representation significantly affects society. Lean into the aspect of PR that’s intentionally influential and use your power to highlight disparities that produce social inequities. When individuals do not see themselves reflected, the unspoken message is that they’re not welcome.
For example, Serena and Venus Williams paved the way for Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka. Shirley Chisholm led the way for Vice President Kamala Harris. Representation matters. Likewise, there’s an impact to hearing Serena Williams share stories of being verbally attacked based on her clothing choices, being wrongfully accused of cheating, and constantly being drug tested more than her international White peers.
Her fellow Los Angeles native, the praised poet and cum laude Harvard University alumna Amanda Gorman, made history earlier this year as the youngest U.S. inaugural poet. Months after her historic feat, she tweeted that a security guard tailed her and stated she looked suspicious. She went on to share, “This is the reality of black girls: One day you’re called an icon, the next day, a threat.”
Communication has a critical role in helping to eliminate stigmas and misinterpretations about culture, gender, race, religion, age, military status, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability, and more. Effective communication fosters dynamic and impactful conversations and moreover supports necessary scrutiny to call out shortcomings and discriminatory practices. When I look across the PR industry, I'm saddened to see how long we have to go to truly reflect global diversity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that PR is more than 83% White. Representation affects not only how people see themselves, but how others see “us.” It mirrors how we see and how we are seen.
This is just one reason why I am proud to support The Diversity Action Alliance, a coalition of PR and communications leaders committed to accelerating progress in the achievement of meaningful and tangible results in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Additionally, an increasing number of DEI benchmark studies are being conducted to measure the current state of PR. There are platforms committed to fostering DEI in PR such as Hold The Press, which highlights demographic data publicly released by PR agencies.
As a PR executive and longtime professor, I'm very aware of the clear link between public relations and education. I teach many international students at NYU and am often reminded about the need to tell diverse and equitable stories. PR’s duty is to teach the public and shape society by showcasing and supporting these stories. The future workforce has a genuine desire to understand the complexities of race and culture to foster better communications.
I have had the honor of making history in the field of communications: being the first Black woman and youngest to lead marketing and communications at Barnard College of Columbia University; leading DEI communications at Comcast NBCUniversal; supporting the launch of NBC BLK, NBC OUT, and more; creating an award-winning DEI communications for CBS Corporation. But the greatest highlight and joy of my career is teaching PR, especially at this pivotal moment, because it means helping to shape and inspire a richer, more diverse world of stories.
Gabrielle Gambrell, Consultant, Speaker & Graduate Adjunct Professor at NYU.mail the author
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